9 years ago, we made our first trip to Europe for our wedding in Greece + honeymoon in Italy and we had to cut short of our stay in Florence due to the strike in Greece. We had to sleep in Rome’s FCO airport and then catch the first train to Florence in the morning so we only had half a day in Florence. We didn’t get to visit the famous Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore back then so when we were looking for a day trip from Pienza, Florence was an obvious choice.
However, getting to Florence with our rental car was a bit of a headache due to the Limited Traffic Zone where you will be fined heavily even mistakenly enter the zone. Of course, the GPS doesn’t have that warning so I did plan carefully to find a parking garage outside the zone. I found this helpful website when planning the day trip: https://www.visitflorence.com/florence-maps/parking-lots-in-florence.html
We parked at Porta al Prato, a big underground parking garage near the main train station with a clean bathroom that you can access with the parking ticket and it’s a 19 minutes walk to the cathedral. The parking rate there was €20 max daily so reasonable in a big city like Florence.
The massive size of the cathedral and the wrap-around queue still shocked me as 9 years ago. However, while standing in line, I found it annoying to be constantly interrupted by either some guy trying to sell scarves or beggars asking for money. Even though I purchased the admission ticket online (inclusive to visit the cathedral, dome, baptistry, bell tower, and the crypt for €18 at https://www.museumflorence.com/), I totally underestimated how slow the queue moving….more than 1.5 hours to get in the Cathedral so it was past my lunchtime 🙁 My wonderful husband asked me to get some quick bites and sit down while he waiting in line. With just gelato shops around the cathedral, I went into Lindt to order gelato and fruit covered chocolates to bring back as snacks. Then, I walked around to take some photos.
The amazing details and one of a kind marble pattern in shades of green and pink throughout the external of the building structures.
The snail moving line wrapped around the cathedral.
Across from the cathedral is the Baptistery of St. John.
The “golden” gate of the Baptistery of St. John:
The front of the cathedral and its bell tower next to it.
After more than 1.5 hours waiting in line, it was our turn to visit and passed through those massive doors filled with 3-D details:
The much-anticipated entrance to the cathedral, we were quite disappointed to be honest by the interior….it looked plain compared to its amazing exterior façade. For more than 1.5 hours wait, that’s it??? Even the Duomo in Siena looked more impressive inside!
The main highlight was the details under the dome:
Beneath the cathedral is the Crypt of Santa Reparata where we walked down for a quick visit since we are not history buffs.
The entrance to the dome is a separate entrance and required an advanced reservation for a time slot to make the climb (you can reserve online when purchasing the ticket). Since it was almost a last-minute decision for this day trip, all the slots were taken…plus I was not sure if I could make the climb with my belly 😉
The bell tower, on the other hand, has no line and it looked doable hahaha!
No no no, we aren’t crazy to make the climb with no lunch so we walked to Impressione Chongqing for lunch first. The biggest difference from our visit 9 years ago was the amount of authentic Chinese restaurants now available in Florence. Back then, it was like one Chinese restaurant and not great either. It was interesting to see that little street is filled with Chinese restaurants, bubble tea places, and markets.
Impressione Chongqing is quite small to squeeze in as many tables as they can so with our 4 dishes lunch, our table was full! I ordered chicken wings dipped in spicy sauce…..I was craving for chicken. It was flavorful and definitely the right amount of “mala” to give the numbing spiciness.
We were debating “water-boiled” beef or fish and ended up choosing the beef. It was spicy, numbing, and good!
For some cooling relief, I got a fried tofu dish:
The dry stir-fried pork with peppers was good too, wish they have the longhorn peppers instead though.
Our lunch definitely satisfying our craving for good Chinese spicy food! The 4 dishes with rice cost €35 only.
After lunch, we walked back to the Baptistery of St. John prior to the bell tower. The golden interior looked much grander than the cathedral.
Next, the bell tower!
The tower is big enough that the stairs are much wider than other bell towers we had climbed and it separated into 3 or 4? main levels. At each of those levels, there are seating areas where you can take a rest from the 414 steps before continuing. It was great for me so I can take a break and drink water to stay hydrated. Inside the tower was actually cool and plenty of wind so it was a relief from the Tuscany heat.
One big disappointment is all the windows are shielded by wired nets which made taking a good photo with a DSLR camera impossible GRR! If I have known about this, I would not waste my energy to climb the 414 stairs; I rather climb up the Piazzale Michelangelo 🙁
You can see the people who climbed the dome up there so for the best pictures and view of the city, best to reserve a spot to climb the dome or walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo!
Jason took some decent photos with his phone using the panorama mode with some challenges and a few tries:
After the bell tower, the next stop was Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge filled with jewelry shops. We walked past the same places we were as 9 years ago so it certainly brought back some memories.
From a distance – the Replica Of Statue of David in front of the Palazzo Vecchio.
So much gold…but I couldn’t find a piece that I like 😛
Look how crowded it is!!!
We took a short break to have bubble tea at San Tea House. Then, we did some shopping at the Coin department store and to use its bathroom 😛 We walked around the center to kill some time before Impressione Chongqing opens for dinner hahaha!
For an early dinner, we ordered stir-fried green beans with red peppers. Great to have some veggy!
Ginger and onion beef, it was just okay nothing special.
We had water-boiled beef for lunch so for dinner, we choose fish this time. Both are good!
The best was the fried Mediterranean shrimps….it was so yummy. Asian flavor plus the heavy shrimp taste perfect! Our dinner was €39 🙂
I guess our day trip was more for food than sightseeing hahaha!